How You Can Slow Down and Still Get Stuff Done

For you young’uns reading this, there was once a time when people watched advertisements during their favorite TV shows. Rumor has it that commercials still exist, but you’d never know it with the invention of DVRs, Netflix, Hulu, and the like.

Also back in the day, I used to ride a triceratops to school and chiseled my homework onto stone tablets. Yabba dabba doo!

Just because we can skip the ads on TV doesn’t mean we’re not subject to all kinds of questionable claims on magazines covers in the checkout lane, billboards, and nearly all “free” websites and apps.

And if you’re like me, you’re probably a little jaded about some of those dubious claims out there.

Lose 10 pounds in a day!

Learn to speak Italian while you sleep!

Make your first million in 3 months!

It’s not that all these promises are untrue. You could lose 10 pounds in a day if your starting weight is in the 400s. You could learn Italian while you sleep if you’re sleeping with a handsome Italian lover who whispers sweet nothings in your ear all night. And you could make your first million in the next 3 months…if you made $900,000 in the last 3 months.

So as a productivity and motivation guru, I roll my eyes when I hear things like, “Work less and do more!”

But here’s the thing: taking breaks, slowing down, and working less actually CAN make you more productive. And there’s no hidden catch like needing a team of employees to do your admin work.

Keep reading and I’ll show you how taking it slow can fast-track your progress.

What Slowing Down Really Means

Most people mistake slowing down with taking an entire week off work or loafing on the couch recovering from the stress of the day. I also hear people talk about taking a break once they reach a certain point, such as taking a 3-month sabbatical after they hit some astronomical benchmark.

Honestly, that sounds like a miserable way to live! Who wants to push themselves like a hamster on a wheel only to get relief “sometime” in the future?

Here’s a better idea: take breaks all the time and spread them throughout your work day, week, and year.

When you slow down and give yourself permission to do something fun and relaxing every day, like read a non-work book, you’ll never get to that desperate point of needing a vacation NOW or else you’ll lose your mind.

It’s all about avoiding burnout while you still get stuff done. You’ll lose much more time if you have a nervous breakdown.

Tim Ferris talks about this idea in his popular book, The 4-Hour Work Week. Don’t wait for retirement to take a break. Do it now while you’re young enough to enjoy it. (PS, Tim Ferris kind of annoys me, but I do agree with him about not deferring pleasure.)

No More Flying By the Seat of Your Pants

I was talking to one of my friends the other day, and she said she runs her whole life “flying by the seat of her pants.” This means she never has a plan and is racing to do whatever needs to be completed next without considering long-term goals.

Needless to say, she never ever takes a break. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

I’m normally a go-go-go-getter who regular bites off more than I can chew. But last week I took a break from blogging and social media. I still met with my clients, but everything else was put on hold.

The thinking behind my break was that I needed time to slow down before I speed up. I have big plans for my personal life and business in 2014, but those enormous goals need to be broken down and mapped out…and that takes time.

Think about the work you do. It could be at a corporate job, or running your own business, or managing your household. If you ever feel like you’re rushing from one thing to the next, you could absolutely benefit from taking a break to work out a better system.

A Systematic Slow Down

Look at your calendar and choose a planned time to slow down. Maybe that’s an hour every afternoon or maybe one day a week devoted to planning. Consider quarterly breaks to reassess your progress and plan your next batch of goals.

When you’re taking a planned break, do the things that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. In terms of self-care, that might mean taking a nap, doing a hobby, or calling a friend. If you’re focusing on your business, that might include creating a backlog of finished work so you’re not scrambling later.

At the start of each day (or better yet, the night before), choose no more than 3 main priorities that absolutely, positively must get done. Then ignore everything else (email, Facebook, reality TV) until those 3 tasks are completed. You’ll be surprised by how much more you can get done in less time when you get rid of distractions and really focus.

There’s no magic pill to make you smarter, more attractive, and über successful (despite what the headlines say).

But you can get more stuff done when you slow down. I promise. 🙂

Do you give yourself breaks and down time?

3 Simple Steps to Become a Productivity Superstar

Dump your excuses, transform your habits, and become the most productive person you know.


  1. Molly on December 15, 2013 at 8:05 am

    This is such important advice to follow & it’s something I need to remind myself of lately. I’ve been pretty overwhelmed since Mike’s accident and have to remember to take more breaks throughout the day. It definitely makes a huge difference in how I feel!

  2. Ashley Urke | Domestic Fashionista on December 10, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Love this all Sage! You know I am a firm believer in simplified living…doesn’t mean that I am never busy…but my productivity is based upon doing less so I can actually follow through on my true priorities. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind and I have been fighting a pretty nasty cold through it. I know that it is because I haven’t allowed my body to rest enough. Another sign that I am doing too much when my body reacts back! I always love your approach to seeing the big picture and long term goals!

    • Sage Grayson on December 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Oh no! I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You’re right that if we don’t take breaks regularly, our bodies will do something so we HAVE to rest (ie, get sick). I love your simplified living approach, and that’s really important this time of year when there seems to be so many obligations and things to do.

  3. Lori on December 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    It’s amazing, but when I “eat that frog” and do the hardest, most difficult task at the first part of my day, then it’s so much easier for me to create little breaks throughout the day. One of my favorite ways to slow down during the work day is to run a non-work book during my lunch break. This takes my mind of work for an entire hour, and I’m a lot more productive once I’m done reading and it’s time to get back to work.

    • Lori on December 10, 2013 at 1:21 pm

      I meant to say “read” a non-work book, not run a non-work book. I must have had running on my mind!

      • Sage Grayson on December 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

        What books are you reading now? I like to “rest my mind” by reading something that’s not directly related to my business. I agree that eating that frog early makes it easy to take breaks later.

  4. Nneka, Working Mystic on December 10, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Hi Sage, I’m a huge advocate for working less and playing more. I can attest that the more I play, the more successful I become.

    I was one of those folks who scheduled every task and every minute of the day. I barely had time to breathe. I learned to leverage my focus, to do the most important thing first, and to carve out time to re-charge and just do absolutely nothing. I call it mental space.

    In the beginning it was scary, but now I savor those moodling moments.

    • Sage Grayson on December 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

      Moodling moments are the best! 🙂

  5. Jamie Palmer on December 10, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Just wanted to take a moment to tell you that I enjoy your blog. You write in a manner that is smart and easy to understand. I think planned breaks are brilliant, before you end up like me – home with the flu watching NCIS reruns!

    • Sage Grayson on December 10, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Thank you so much for the kind words, Jamie! Sorry you’re home with the flu. 🙁 At least you get to relax with a TV marathon now. My favorite “guilty pleasure” shows are Bakery Boss and What Not to Wear. Feel better soon!

  6. Sara on December 10, 2013 at 8:03 am

    This was a cool post, Sage! I am definitely a planner. I have to make plans for everything or I get burnt out. I am also big on planning breaks so that I am not rushed around. Years of mult-tasking while trying to balance work & school has gotten me to this point.

    • Sage Grayson on December 10, 2013 at 8:49 am

      Burnout sneaks up on me if I’m not careful. Planning my breaks definitely helps. I think you’re like most women who have work, school, family, and a hundred other areas to balance and juggle. That’s great that you have a plan that works for you.

  7. Sarah @ Long Island Nerd on December 9, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    This is an incredibly smart post Sage. My work life is pretty interesting in that my business is seasonal and we are always VERY busy from May through November. There is still work to do in the winter and early spring but it definitely slows down quite a bit so there is a natural break in my work life. Things have been different this year though and circumstances have come up where I’ve had to cover for everyone and I feel like I’m holding down the fort more often than not. I actually took a personal day off this past Friday to take care of my own needs. And that basically meant pampering myself with a trip to the hair salon (it had been 6 months!) and I met up with a friend in the city to go to a comedy show (I had the tickets for months and decided it was a perfect time to take a “me” day). I feel refreshed but I know that I can’t take personal days all the time so I’m definitely going to work on setting that time aside during the week to plan and for self-care. I agree, it will make a huge difference 🙂

    • Sage Grayson on December 9, 2013 at 4:57 pm

      You know, it’s weird how I used to be much better about taking personal days to recharge myself when I worked in a corporate job. Now that I’m the boss, I need to constantly remind myself to slow down and take care of myself so I won’t burn out. That’s wonderful that you took a personal day! I’m notorious about waiting months and months between hair cuts. 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your experience. You always leave the most insightful comments, Sarah.